Even though we've seen a torrent of Windows Phone 7 devices, we couldn't leave you hanging on a review of the Samsung Focus. In the last few days, a flurry of new Microsoft-powered devices have hit the market, boasting slight differences, but all looking and acting largely the same. We've taken a deep dive on the operating system itself, the Omnia 7, Optimus 7, Mozart, HD7, and Surround (phew!) -- now it's time to focus on the, er... Focus. The device itself has a lot in common with its European brother, the Omnia 7, boasting the same 4-inch Super AMOLED display, 8GB of internal storage, 1GHz CPU, and 5 megapixel camera. The device will soon go on sale in America for $199.99 on AT&T's network -- in fact, it's the only Windows Phone 7 device you'll be able to buy on the network when they go public on November 8th. But is it really worth your hard earned cash when there are so many other options in the market? Read on for the full Engadget review to find out!

Update: Just a note, the HD7 will also be available (for T-Mobile) on November 8th and we've updated the above information to reflect that.

Update 2: We had the numbers wrong on the RAM / ROM. It's 512MB and 1GB, respectively.

This review is primarily of the Samsung Focus hardware. Check out our full review of Windows Phone 7 for our thoughts on the OS.
Gallery | 22 Photos

Samsung Focus review hands-on


Hardware

The Focus is the thinnest WP7 phone that exists right now, and it's kind of the first thing you notice. The device measures 4.9 inches by 2.53 inches, and is a svelte 0.39 inches in thickness. It's also surprisingly light, weighing in at just over 4 ounces. That lightness, coupled with the build materials here (pretty much all plastic) give the phone a slightly cheaper feel than its AT&T counterpart, the Surround. Compared to phones like the G2 or iPhone 4, it definitely comes off as somewhat chintzy. In a way, its closest cousin is the Fascinate, which makes sense since the Focus and Omnia 7 are basically Galaxy S phones with Windows Phone 7 onboard.

On the front of the phone is that big 480 x 800 capacitive display with three capacitive buttons below (back, home, and search). Around the right side of the phone is a two step camera button and power / sleep button, up top is the headphone jack and MicroUSB port, and on the left side you'll find the volume rocker. The phone has kind of a slick quasi-metal bezel that runs around the upper portion of the seams, almost giving it a BlackBerry-ish vibe.

Compared to its brother, the Omnia 7, the Focus certainly seems lacking, and it's difficult to understand why Samsung didn't bring the solid, metal construction of the European device to US shores. All told, while the design of the handset might be reasonably handsome, it's not especially high-end. In fact, we're currently having an issue with our review unit where the plastic back isn't fully snapping into one of its fastener slots properly -- which would be extremely annoying if we'd just laid out cash for this phone. There's something lazy about the look and feel of the phone that typifies the kind of leveling-out we're seeing with touchscreen-only devices right now.

Internals / Storage / Display

Inside you've got a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, 512MB of RAM, 1GB of ROM, and 8GB of flash storage. The screen is Samsung's well-loved Super AMOLED (the same you find in the Galaxy S phones), and of course is capacitive multitouch. The device also has that 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, and a GPS chip. We take a little issue with the fact that the device only has 8GB of storage -- Samsung has boasted about the fact that unlike other WP7 devices, the Focus has a microSD slot, but it doesn't exactly work as you'd expect.

One big gripe we have with the Focus is its tiny internal storage capacity. In this day and age, limiting users to 8GB is just not enough. We filled the onboard flash with our first sync, and we think others will have the same experience. Now weirdly, Samsung claims you can actually use the SD slot on this device (something no other OEM's are talking about -- a feature that Microsoft expressly told us would not happen). How that's done, however, ends up being a bit of a mystery.

After some experimentation, we discovered that you could indeed insert a card into the slot, completely wipe your device, and... voila! Extra space. We took our 8GB device to 22GB (well, more like 20) fairly quickly. Why the rest of the Windows Phone devices don't have this feature is a mystery to us. Of course, this is a one way street -- you can't pop the card out without wiping your device, so unless you want to do a lot of restoring, get the biggest card you can afford. One other note, our friend Michael Gartenberg said he had been having issues after adding a card -- we haven't seen any weird behavior, but we're not sure this is entirely supported, either. We'll update if we see anything funky happening.

In case you're wondering about any GPS issues with this device along the lines of troubles folks were having with the Galaxy S line, have no fear. Location services were fast and accurate -- particularly when it came to mapping. Turn-by-turn worked like a charm (see the software selection below), and Bing pulled up our location quickly and accurately.

Finally -- that display. The screen on the Focus is the same Super AMOLED you've seen on all of the company's recent smartphones, and it does look stunning. As with other OLED screens, we find the colors to be fairly oversaturated, but that doesn't necessarily detract from the crispness and clearness of the Focus' display. Text and images just pop like crazy here, and even when zooming around or playing fast-paced games, the screen always looks tremendously sharp. Daylight viewing was fairly good here as well, though it's not quite as bright as LCD competitors we've tested. We'd love to see Samsung work out the color balance issue, but there's nothing here that's a deal breaker.

Battery life

We were a bit worried about how the Focus would fare when it came to battery life -- Windows Phone 7 does quite a bit of pushing and pulling of data over the network (like those SkyDrive photo syncs). Luckily, in our testing the device actually came out looking pretty good, though it wasn't completely without issue. On heavy days of calling, emailing, gaming, and browsing, we were able to make it into the evening without needing a charge -- but there's no way you're getting away without plugging this phone in while you sleep. The device made it through most of our heavy days, but once it dips into the danger zone of 10-15 percent battery life, you need to get it to some power ASAP, as it seems to drain quickly when it comes to the end of its juice. Overall, battery life was good but not great -- we're sure Microsoft is still putting efforts into optimization, but we're glad that at least right now the Focus has a substantial 1500mAh unit inside.

Phone / Speakerphone

The audio quality on the Focus is frighteningly good. For up-to-the-ear phone calls, the earpiece was loud and crystal clear, and the speakerphone was not only great for voice calls, but made listening to music from the phone nearly tolerable. Both the earpiece and speaker had an even quality that made long calls -- even at pretty loud levels -- reasonably pleasant.

Calls came through loud and clear, and in our testing we didn't have many issues with drops or interference.

Camera

The Focus has an excellent, excellent camera. In fact, given its relative ease of use, we were surprised with how good our results were. As with lots of the other Windows Phone 7 devices, the camera software is no frills but super fast, and getting into the application and snapping pictures is an extremely breezy affair. As we said before, the camera has a 5 megapixel sensor with an auto focus lens. We were able to get pretty tight macro shots, and focusing happens fairly painlessly using the two-step, dedicated camera button. Low light settings gave us a little more trouble when trying to capture sans flash, but we were able to get some nice shots if we kept our hands steady.
Gallery | 22 Photos

Samsung Focus camera shots


On the video front, the Focus is definitely capable of shooting some quality 720p clips. We thought that the 24fps video on the device looked quite sharp next to its nearest neighbors, and even though there are certainly stability issues when walking and shooting, the Focus lends a certain filmic quality to its video that we really liked. We did experience what looked like a drop in frame rate while grabbing some video (you can see in the video below), but it wasn't consistent (though it was troubling). Luckily, unlike our experience with the Omnia 7, the Focus didn't seem to step the aperture quite as severely when moving between light ranges.


Software

As we said in the intro, this is really a review of the hardware -- look at our full Windows Phone 7 review to see what the software is all about. While Samsung didn't do much in the way of customization, the company does include its "Now" application which consists of three panels with weather, news, and stock information. It's actually one of the better designed WP7 apps we've seen, though it doesn't utilize a live tile, which seems like a total no-brainer for something like this. Also, it didn't seem to update on its own, forcing a manual refresh each time we opened it.

Since this is an AT&T device, it's also loaded with some of the carrier's apps. Normally that would be a bad thing, but the company has actually been fairly responsible in this area, providing at least a couple of applications that add real utility to the phone.

The first of those apps is AT&T Navigator, which is powered by TeleNav's software. As a pure GPS app, we thought this was pretty outstanding on the phone. It provides traffic info and has a clean, uncluttered interface that makes getting where you need to go straightforward. Compared to something like TomTom's mobile app for the iPhone, this is light years ahead in ease of use. There are a couple of nagging issues, though. Firstly, when you're using the nav in landscape mode, you can't use any of the settings or route controls -- you have to turn the device into portrait mode. That's fine if you're out for a walk, but in a car (if you've got the thing in a mount), that's kind of a pain. Also, if you need to leave the app for any reason while you're navigating, when you reopen and resume your trip, it has to recalculate the route each time.

AT&T also bundled its Uverse app here, but we didn't get much of a chance to see how it works as it kept telling us we couldn't download or stream any video, instead flashing up an error message that reads "fully featured application coming soon." We're going to assume that AT&T hasn't enabled the service and just wait for the November 8th launch to see if anything changes.

Other than that, it's pretty much business as usual here. There aren't any major tweaks to any parts of the OS that will seem wildly different or unfamiliar to anyone who's seen one of the other Windows Phone 7 handsets. And that's the way Microsoft wants it.

Wrap-up

The Focus is kind of the everyman of the Windows Phone 7 line. It doesn't really have any fancy features and isn't especially stylish... but it gets the job done. If you're in the market for a WP7 handset, here in America you don't have a huge amount of options. We prefer the Focus over the Surround (for you AT&T buyers), but there isn't such a wide amount of differences between the two that either one would be a bad choice. The Focus is thinner and sleeker to some extent, though its plasticky build leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it's a solid, comfortable phone that works exactly as you'd expect, and if you're the photo snapping type, you'll be pleasantly surprised by its prowess in that area. At the end of the day, a lot of people will find that the Focus hits the sweet spot -- for us, it just slightly misses the mark.
Samsung

Focus

Pros

  • Beautiful display
  • Impressive camera
  • Thin

Cons

  • Plastic casing feels cheap
  • Frame rates can be spotty on video capture
  • Bizarre storage upgrade procedure
Summary